End of Act II?A: Not very.
This is one of those questions, the sort that get asked all the time and garner a different answer from practically anyone you ask.
On the other hand, I’ve been asked, and I’m right, so we can finally put this entire debate to rest, right?
I’ll settle for “maybe”.
The truth is that act breaks are highly overrated by most of the so-called screenwriting “instructors” out there precisely because they are easily teachable. Pedagogy requires some sort of orthodoxy. It’s not very useful for a student to hear that “act breaks” are conceptual points or moments or possibly sequences in a narrative that may or may not clearly occur twice, thrice or up to twelve times.
Seriously, how do you grade that?
So instead, screenwriting “instructors” teach that there are three acts. Or seven. Or five. They like to pick new numbers of acts to help brand themselves. Then they tell you on what page the act break must occur.
Hooey. Baloney. Argle-bargle. Go ahead…fill in your own Montgomery Burnsian exclamation of disgust. It’s all foofera.
Act breaks are the equivalent of scene blocking for directors or f-stops for cinematographers. They’re an internal tool to help you however you need them, but they’re never supposed to be noticed by the audience. There is no hard and fast rule. They simply help you organize your own story.
Writing a movie, after all, is a nifty bit of reverse engineering, if you think about it. You imagine a story, hopefully with some kind of gestalt (fancy word day here at the AW), and then set about recreating it as a series of elements. Those elements can be sequences or scenes or moments or pages or ideas. Up to you.
When you’re wrestling with this task, you may find that intermediate steps are helpful. You can conceive of your story in three large chunks…or perhaps two…or perhaps ten.
That’s your business. No one else (particularly the audience) gives a damn. They just want a good story without any seams showing.
This is actually one of the best parts of filmmaking. It’s not like writing a classical-era symphony with its strict number of four movements, a sonata followed by a slow movement followed by a minuet & trio and concluding with a rondo. We can follow traditional structures or blow them all to hell.
The truth is that just as paper covers rock, talent covers act breaks. Talent covers formatting. Talent covers the number of brads you have.
Don’t let anyone’s orthodox view of page counts and act breaks jam you up. It turns out that a lot of great screenplays can be seen, upon analysis, to have a certain act rhythm.
That doesn’t mean the great screenwriters who wrote them were concentrating on that.